It starts at the craft table

If you have been tracking with us over the last few years as I believe most of you have, you would be aware of all the extraordinary things that have been happening at Prison Network despite the challenges presented to us by COVID-19 and prisons being closed.

We have used the opportunity to focus on areas such as our post release Recovery Group, including hosting bi-annual mini-camps and regular ‘a-day-away’ outings which have fostered ongoing positive relationships and healthy peer support among the women. Excitingly, we have grown to three transitional homes as part of our ‘More than a Home’ Program and have therefore managed to support six women with housing over the last few years. And of course, through our employment initiative we have seen many women secure employment through our corporate partnerships.

These initiatives are truly life changing for the women we work with and very exciting to be a part of.

But these high highs, the inspiring programs that facilitate the kind of long-term cycle-breaking change we are working towards, all start in the most unlikely of places. They start at a craft table.

Here’s a little secret – when I started work at PN in 2020 I arrived with many good intentions, and a fair few assumptions. When I evaluated the range of PN’s work, one of my first questions was, “Craft? When there are so many needs, and such complex challenges, why would we run a craft program?” Deep and sincere apologies to our ‘crafties’ out there!

The team, and our Lived Experience Advisory Panel patiently educated me on the value of this program, and although my appreciation for its impact grew, last week, when for the first time I sat at a craft table with a group of beautiful women with difficult stories, I really understood.

It is mindboggling that throughout my time at PN, I have not been witness to our in-prison programs. And so, after a long and difficult hiatus, last week I was finally able to see it first-hand. I saw the pure delight on the faces of women when they saw the team preparing for the program and started to rush in thrilled to work on something purposeful, personal and life-giving.

I chatted with many women as they came and went for the duration of the program. One, who was the first to arrive, and almost the last to leave, was Fiona. We talked together about our children and the struggle of bringing up boys. In amongst our chatting, she shared with me parts of her heart-wrenching tale, peppered with the words, “geez, this is so awesome, it’s so good you guys do this” while she worked on her craft. We were making photo frames, and for over an hour and a half Fiona painstakingly and lovingly beaded her frame and cut out and pasted little letters saying, “I LOVE YOU”. She was going to put a photo of herself in it and keep it as a special graduation gift for one of her children at the end of the year.

As we chatted over containers of sparkles and ribbon, and she told me she was getting out next year. It was going to be difficult. She was worried. She was hoping she could find some help. I told her that she just had.

For the women Prison Network supports, the road beyond prison is complex and messy. It is time consuming and at times, heartbreaking. But we are honoured to be invited into the lives of these women, and to journey with them for as long as they need us and see them living lives of dignity, hope and purpose.

And it all starts at the craft table.

With prisons now open, we need your help to enable us to continue to focus on and grow our post release work, and also get back to the craft table. Our Mid Year Annual Appeal is open until the end of June.